Transport campaigners have voiced dismay after North Yorkshire County Council confirmed it had spent the lion’s share of grants to develop innovative rural transport solutions on replacing old vehicles.
The criticism of North Yorkshire County Council follows claims that the authority is refusing to consider range of travel solutions for rural areas at little cost to the public purse, such as demand responsive services, which would be able to meet demands that were not previously met by conventional services.
The campaigners said the Department for Transport (DfT) had provided £832,000 to the authority in 2010 and 2011 “for the development of local community transport services”.
Awarding the grant to the authority, the then transport minister Norman Baker highlighted how the authority was already receiving the Rural Bus Subsidy Grant to help support the provision of non-commercial rural services and that the extra funding should be used to develop services.
Mr Baker added: “It is for each authority to determine how best to use community transport and assist rural communities to be able to access jobs and services, but I would expect authorities do not use this extra DfT revenue funding to displace planned expenditure on community transport and supported bus services for 2011/12.”
In a response to a Freedom of Information Act request by transport campaigner Barry Connor in 2014, a council assistant director stated the authority had continued to support community transport through its general budget and “the DfT funding is still intact”.
When asked last week if the DfT funding had been spent, a council spokesman said it was all spent between 2011 and 2016, and that £501,000 of the funding had been used to replace community transport vehicles.
The council said the remainder of the funding was spent on service costs, marketing, support for car schemes and small grants.
Mr Connor, a former bus firm managing director and community transport consultant, said: “Effectively, therefore their spending on community transport was no greater than it would have been if the grant had not been received from DfT. The council appears to have invoiced themselves.
“The grants were supposed to be additional to normal spending in order to get new schemes off the ground without the need for rural counties to provide more money. Instead they simply used the money to buy new vehicles.”
The authority’s executive member for access Councillor Don Mackenzie said the council remained committed to community transport as an effective means of connecting our residents.
He said: “Retaining a bus network across a large rural county like ours is crucially important to people who have little or no access to other means of transport.
“For this reason we are very supportive of community transport operators. Without them, many of our bus services would not exist, because we cannot afford to run them and commercial operators would not be interested in them.
“We have 22 contracts with seven community transport providers across the county and over the last three years we have spent over £1m on community transport in grants and capital funding, training, marketing, car scheme funding and by operating a fare cap scheme for community transport provision for health appointments.”